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Men at Arms

(Sword of Honour #1)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,287 ratings  ·  159 reviews
Guy Crouchback, determined to get into the war, takes a commission in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers. His spirits high, he sees all the trimmings but none of the action. And his first campaign, an abortive affair on the West African coastline, ends with an escapade which seriously blots his Halberdier copybook. Men at Arms is the first book in Waugh's brilliant trilogy, ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 31st 2001 by Penguin Classics (first published 1952)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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James
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Men at Arms (1952) by Evelyn Waugh is the first part of Waughs Sword of Honour trilogy of books (along with Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender).

Men at Arms tells the story of Guy Crouchback and his endeavours to, in his way play his part, do his bit and get actively involved in World War II and The British Army.

Unfortunately, I struggled to engage with either the narrative or the main protagonist. Men at Arms is a novel that reads, at least for the most part, as a somewhat
...more
Cecily
Part 1 of Sword of Honour.

What fun - a bit like a cross between MASH, PG Wodehouse and Brideshead!

An upper class British Catholic divorcé leaves his home in Italy at the start of WW2 to try to join the army, and eventually succeeds.

The story is populated by quirky characters and strange coincidences, with glimpses of poignancy. Most of the characters are in a perpetual state of genial incomprehension and incompetence.

Waugh served in WW2 and if his experience was anything like what was described,
...more
Brendan Hodge
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you, like me, have been reared on tales of the second World War as the just and virtuous struggle of the "greatest generation", Evelyn Waugh's arch novels (based loosely on his own war experiences) are an important and darkly enjoyable filling out of that two-dimensional view. The stakes here are still high. But the inevitable absurdities and inhumanities of a huge bureaucracy trying to lurch itself into action is here too. As the first novel of the Sword of Honor trilogy nears its climax, ...more
Sebastian
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
After having been somewhat underwhelmed with Waugh's Decline and Fall, I had modest expectations for Men at Arms, but I ended up really enjoying it, and anticipate reading the last two books of the Sword of Honour (no omitting U's, please, we're British) trilogy. Full of dry and absurd humor, and infused with the gravity of World War II, the book follows in serial form the misadventures of our protagonist, Guy Crouchback, as he transitions from dreaming of playing solider to facing the daily ...more
Mark
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Sword of Honour is a World War Two trilogy that wonderfully evokes time and place and the delightful insouciance of its central character, Guy Crouchback makes him a reliable narrator. The series chronicles many aspects of war not necessarily visible in other WW2 writings, like the way the British class system played out in separating the officers from the rank and file, and occasioned the setting up of hierarchical structures in the British Army negating much of its efficacy as a fighting ...more
Jeanette
Quite unlike any other book about WWII that I have read. A bit dry at times but also extremely funny.
While I didn't care terribly much for the character of Guy Crouchback, I found him a bit of a depressing bore, the book was saved by the antics of Apthorpe. The thunder box incident is probably the most entertaining and memorable thing I have read in a long time.
Roger Burk
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pleasure
Pious, innocuous, nebbishy Guy Crouchback, last scion of an ancient and undistinguished Catholic family of the English landed gentry, decides to join the war effort in 1939 as a second lieutenant, despite his middle age and lack of military experience. It gives some purpose to his life, after his wife abandoned him for a series of subsequent exciting husbands. He has some trouble finding a regiment that will take him, but finally gets into officer training with the Royal Corps of Halberdiers. He ...more
Thomas
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The best thing about finishing this book is knowing that, as the first in a trilogy, I can take the next two off my TBR and make room for other books.
Leslie
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe even 4.5*!

The dark humor of this novel, the first in Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy, struck me as quite similar to that in M*A*S*H. The eccentricities of Guy's fellow officers, the stupidities of some aspects of military life, etc. In some ways, this is the first of Waugh's books that successfully combined his satire with his more serious thoughts about life as a Catholic Englishman.

Christian Rodska does an excellent job narrating the book. I especially liked his voice for Apthorpe.
Greg
May 08, 2018 rated it liked it
"But whether orders made sense or not de Souza could be trusted to carry them out. Indeed he seemed to find a curious private pleasure in doing something he knew to be absurd, with minute efficiency. The other officer, Jervis, needed constant supervision." Waugh's light, comic touch is always welcome. But here, I can't help but compare this to Anthony Powell's magnificent 12-volume saga (A Dance to the Music of Time) of both wars in which the English are caught up in recuperating from the first ...more
Debbie
Dec 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Winner of the 1952 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britains oldest literary award, Men At Arms is the first part of Waughs The Sword of Honour Trilogy , his look at the Second World War.

It follows Guy Crouchback, the nearly-forty-year-old son of an English aristocratic family who manages to get accepted to officers training in the early part of 1940, and is eventually posted to Dakar in Senegal West Africa. While there, he inadvertently poisons one of his fellow officers and is sent home in
...more
Patrick McCoy
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
I am very found of Evelyn Waugh's writing and this year I have decided to tackle the Sword of Honor trilogy, and I have just finished the first volume, Men At Arms (1952). It is the story of 35 year old Guy Crouchback's enlistment into the military at the start of World War II. It is said to have been based on Waugh's own experiences as an older man enlisting. It is something of a British "Catch-22" in the satire and absurdities of the military. That being said it is almost more the story of ...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
This is the second book I have read by Waugh. The first was Brideshead Revisited and while it was interesting, it was a bit morose.

"That little tick wants his bottom kicked, " said Major Erskine. "I think I shall kick it. Good for him and pleasant for me."

That is my favorite line and I like repeating it to myself. That is also a good sample of the wit Waugh exercises on every page of Men at Arms.

Consequently I liked Men at Arms much better than Brideshead Revisited. Our hero Guy Crouchback is
...more
E
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first leg of Waugh's semi-autobiographical WWII trilogy. In it our hero (or is he an antihero?) Guy, aged 36, plots and schemes his way into an obscure Army regiment. Most of the book is taken up with training escapades. The novel is not absurdist at the level of Catch-22, but it nevertheless contains quite a few absurd scenarios. You can see why the regiment spends 300 pages planning for war instead of being send to France to fight the actual war! By the end of the novel they do ...more
Issicratea
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, 1950-1970
I started reading this inspired by a good Channel 4 dramatization of Waughs Sword of Honour trilogy, starring Daniel Craig. I hadnt read it before, though Waughs hilarious manic early novels were formative reading for me. I didnt get on particularly well with Brideshead Revisited and assumed I only liked Waugh in his most straightwardly comic mode.

I was wrong! Men of Arms, which I read in the slightly modified version Waugh prepared in 1965 for the single-volume The Sword of Honour Trilogy, is
...more
Jason Towers
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Straddles the line between comedy and absurd truth. Very readable prose, quite the page-turner in its own way.
Susan
Jun 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel is the first in the Sword of Honour trilogy, followed by Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender. When we meet Guy Crouchback he is living in Italy and is returning to England for the first time in eight years with plans to "serve his King", as war has just been declared. Guy comes from an old, Catholic family, now sadly in decline. His father has given up Broome, the family home, and is living (quite cheerfully) in a hotel. As Guy is divorced, and unable to re-marry as a ...more
Amelie
Jun 04, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read
A dry, dark look at the early days of World War II. Funny, acerbic and sad - quintessentially Waugh.
Corto
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cynical and unsentimental. Good Waugh. Looking forward to the next two.
Sally Wragg
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Its many years since Ive read Waughs Men at Arms but this time, Ive more enjoyed and appreciated its satirical black humour. The story concerns shy and self-effacing Guy Crouchback, a man who lives his life by a decent and strict moral code and is thus easily betrayed by the system, in this instance, the army he is so desperate to join and for whom he only wishes to do his bit. Throughout the book, he has little control over what happens, for instance, despite frantic efforts on his own behalf, ...more
Jordan
Listened to the audiobook. Outstanding. Guy Crouchback has become one of my favorite literary characters, and the themes of religious devotion, military duty, and love of homeland were worked into the story wonderfully well, and with healthy doses of irony and wit. The chaos, muddle, and waste of war, even when not in combat, are expertly depicted. Incidentally, the first thing by Waugh that I've ever read. Looking forward to the other two books in the trilogy.
Mauro
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
A gentleman's report of good-willing jokes that go berserk.
Stilish, funny and cruel; Waugh at his best.
Jake
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Demands the same sense of humor that finds Wodehouse and Flashman hilarious. If you're looking for a "normal" war novel rather than an acid send-up, stop here!
Laura
From BBC Radio 4 - Classical Serial:
Evelyn Waugh's satirical WW2 masterpiece:

1/2: Guy Crouchback is a man scarred by a broken marriage, searching for a purpose in a modern world, when war breaks out he feels he may have at last found a cause worth fighting for.

2/2: The Halbadiers are yet to see action so Guy spends his time aiding Apthorpe with the concealment of his Thunder box - a portable latrine. And Guy's ex-wife Virginia makes a reappearance in his life.

Directed by Sally Avens

Waugh's
...more
Deane
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I started the book, I didn't realize it was a 'spoof' about WWII. It's very funny in places which seemed strange to me while Dunkirk, bombings, Germans take Poland, Paris, truck loads of Jewish folk being driven away to camps, England preparing for bombings ....the characters almost seemed oblivious to what was really happening across the channel and this group of Halberdiers wanted so badly to go to war but each time they are held back, delayed, taken to wrong places, boat rides that were ...more
Rick
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh (originally published 1952, and book one of his Sword of Honour trilogy) is a delightful tale of the nonsense and ridiculousness involved in gathering a nation for war. Some other reviewers have likened it to Joseph Hellers Catch 22 but I also see threads of similarity with Richard Hookers MASH and the follow-on TV series M*A*S*H. As such you cannot approach this book too seriously.

In preparing an entire world for war here Great Britain there are many starts and
...more
Val
Sep 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Men at Arms is satirical. We follow an idealistic Guy as he leaves his Italian castle, visits a crusader saint and sets off to England to fight for his country, Christian values (as he sees them) and his honour. At first his country does not seem to want him, but eventually he becomes a trainee officer in an old and very traditional regiment. He does not have an exciting war, the Nazis overrun northern Europe before he gets to France and there is a lot of apparently pointless moving about and ...more
Huw Evans
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I came upon the phrase "Bildungsroman" in a piece of Litcrit the other day. It is used to describe the novel as psychological development of the principle character. Guy Crouchback needs development and aspires to greatness by becoming a war hero. In three novels he is dissected and reconstructed, not necessarily as a better man but as a better human being. As with all Waugh it is the precision of the writing that I adore and the Trilogy is, I think, his greatest achievment better even than ...more
Lawrence
Sep 28, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who loved Catch-22
It's Catch-22: the Catholic version. Basically, the major theme is the futility of modern bureaucracy but I think it's a critique of stringent traditions as well or maybe that traditions and modernity are incompatible.

Interesting insights about manning up and how we are emasculated by society and women.

I'm not sure if Apthorpe is supposed to be a hero or an example of what's wrong with tradition.

The language barrier is quite immense. I had problems getting into it at the beginning but it became
...more
D
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english
Amazing how people actually tried to get involved in the purposeless slaughter that, unlike WWII, was the great war. The description of the goings on at the (probably fictional) Halberdier regiment are extremely funny.
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Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher. His only sibling Alec also became a writer of note. In fact, his book The Loom of Youth (1917) a novel about his old boarding school Sherborne caused Evelyn to be expelled from there and placed at Lancing College. He said of his time there, the whole of English education when I was brought up was to produce prose writers; it was all we ...more

Other books in the series

Sword of Honour (3 books)
  • Officers and Gentlemen (Sword of Honour, #2)
  • The End of the Battle (Sword of Honour, #3)

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